WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today signed a memorandum of understanding with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities that will strengthen USDA efforts to promote educational and employment opportunities for Hispanic students.

"I'm pleased to enhance our partnership with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and the internship, scholarship, fellowship and grant programs USDA offers," said Johanns. "Together, we can improve the educational achievement of Hispanic students and prepare them for successful and rewarding careers."

Johanns and Antonio R. Flores, HACU President and CEO, signed a memorandum of understanding at HACU's 11th Annual National Capitol Forum on Hispanic Higher Education. The agreement provides a cooperative framework to strengthen the USDA-Hispanic-Serving Institutions program that empowers Hispanic students to attain educational excellence.

The agreement also contributes to the fulfillment of USDA's mission to promote agricultural-related careers and professional attainment among minorities, and with this agreement, specifically among students and faculty of HACU member institutions, increasing employment opportunities at USDA for HACU students and supporting the development of HACU.

In 1996, USDA established a landmark partnership with HACU to provide internship opportunities with USDA.

Each year, approximately 100 students work for USDA agencies across the country, while pursuing degrees in agricultural-science-related fields. Today, more than 20 percent of these USDA-HACU interns are working at USDA as permanent employees.

To promote public service and to create access to higher education for Hispanic undergraduate and graduate students, USDA launched the Public Service Leaders Scholarship in 2002.

Selected students receive a full tuition scholarship for two years and prior to graduation intern with USDA for a minimum of 640 hours. Upon graduation, students commit to work for USDA for a minimum of two years. More than 30 Hispanic students are currently participating in this scholarship program and the first class of six students began working for USDA this summer.

USDA's Hispanic-Serving Institutions Fellows Program brings highly accomplished faculty members at Hispanic-Serving Institutions to work at USDA for two-to-six weeks each summer.

Hispanic-Serving Institutions are accredited and degree-granting institutions of higher education with a full-time Hispanic student enrollment of 25 percent or more. Each year, USDA invests more than $30 million in educational programs targeting Hispanic students and institutions.

For further information about the President's Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, visit www.yic.gov, which is also available in Spanish at www.yosipuedo.gov.

SOURCE: USDA news release.